Seneca’s Medea


BT Studio
Tues-Sat 9:30pm
Tickets: £5- £6

“An assault” is how director Helen Slaney chose to describe her play, and, as is the case throughout this new translation of the Roman classic, the choice of words is apt.
It begins softly with the churning of chanting, five women whispering like witches as I take my seat, but before I am ready to listen I am forced into it by the eruption of five angry voices and the spewing out of five angry bodies as they break apart like shattering glass. The cursing continues, rising and sinking in waves as the women pace the stage like animals. When still, their stances are crouched, as if they are cavemen still learning to walk upright, and then they move in formation with empty eyes like a network of nymphs. Their incantations – some in English, some Latin – often shrug off their literal meanings before they reach my ears, but it is always their slow
movements, coming towards me as if through water, and the wordless images of molten metal and flowing rivers projected behind their backs, that keep me bound to the action.
This is the story of Medea, I should add, the Medea of Jason and the Golden Fleece, as told by Seneca and this production’s translator, Henry Stead. It is a transformation of classical literature into cutting-edge physical theatre, and perhaps it is the boldness of this combination that makes it such a success. In the space of one dimly-lit hour it charts the journey of one woman, whose thirst for vengeance drives her from anger through a smouldering of madness towards…well, more lasting measures.
This is the story of the Medeas. From a fluid single entity of collaborative movements they throw up one frenzied Medea, the role passed from one woman to the next like a possession.  The interesting thing to see is that Medea is slightly different in each body. According to the cast this is entirely accidental, the product of each actress’s thoughts on the protagonist, but it may as well be part of the choreography: what better way to terrify us with such a fragmented psyche? It all adds to our image of Medea as a frightening victim, and latches onto the fear that has already pounced on us from behind our seats.
The audience are plunged into this play and boiled in it for an hour, before being released slightly scalded. This production is the sum of lots of unusual ideas, and the result is something unusually good. Go and see it, definitely, but be warned: the cast does not want you to leave feeling safe.

Lindsay Oldham